Monday, August 22, 2011

No Place Like Home

When you have a loved one who is mentally ill, you don't look at homeless people in quite the same way. The old man wearing a tin foil crown who refers to himself as the King of Egypt used to be some one's little boy. The old lady who screams at pedestrians who get too close to her as they cross the street used to be her daddy's princess. And that heroin addict who's shaking violently as he's curled up in a ball inside an abandoned doorway used to be best friends with his brother.

No one chooses to be homeless, just like no one chooses to be an addict. "But what about personal responsibility" those who've never been down this road ask? People who are mentally ill suffer from a decreased ability to make socially acceptable personal decisions. You can't force someone to accept treatment, you can't force someone to take their medication. You beg, you plead, you bargain, you threaten. You try tough love. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it buys you time.

It's difficult to get through to someone who hasn't slept in over 60 hours. It's exhausting, it's frustrating, it's infuriating. You can grab them by the shoulders and scream into their face "YOU'RE KILLING YOURSELF! LISTEN TO ME! I CAN'T HELP YOU UNLESS YOU LET ME!" Sometimes, you get through. Sometimes, you don't. Sometimes, you watch them tear up and shake their head no. You watch them pull further away, sometimes disappear, until they become nothing more than a nagging fear. A fear every time it rains or snows that the don't have shelter, a fear the only way they can get food is by letting someone hurt or abuse them. A fear, every time the phone rings or the door bell buzzes, that on the other end is an official sounding voice saying, "We're sorry to inform you".

As sad as that information makes you, there is always that little voice inside your heart that whispers, "Thank God". You hate yourself for feeling that way. Even though, now, you can finally relax, because your loved one is finally at peace. They finally have a home. A grave. A place where they can't be hurt anymore. A place where they're finally safe. A home you can finally visit.

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